Central to the concept of total war is the full mobilization of resources and a more intense experience of warfare. While the technologies and material goods of warfare have changed drastically over time, the most basic resource of warfare has changed very little—the men (and now women) who fight. As a battle of minds, warfare is constantly requiring full mobilization of a soldier’s own personal resources, thus reflecting elements of total war within the singular unit of the soldier.Read More
The conditions and new experiences of the war were unsettling to the volunteer soldier, and they had to deal with them mentally as well as physically. Some men adapted to the war better than others, but all were affected by what they saw, did, and felt. As Argentinean writer José Narosky said, “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.” Becoming callous to the death and destruction of battle did not mean that soldiers were impervious to its effects. Men had to overcome and reverse their cultural understandings of killing other men to be effective soldiers; for many men it was easier to die than to kill.Read More
Complacency endangers history. The first plausible answer is not always the correct or solitary one, yet all too often we content ourselves with simplistic solutions to murky questions. Civil War historians have grappled with the Battle of Chancellorsville for nearly 150 years, and we (surprisingly) we still have very simple rejoinders for why Joseph Hooker and the Army of the Potomac lost a struggle which they entered into with every advantage. Joe Hooker lost the Battle of Chancellorsville because of his own arrogance and errors. Joe Hooker lost Chancellorsville because he was no match for the Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Fighting Joe Hooker lost Chancellorsville simply because Fighting Joe Hooker lost confidence in himself.
In all likelihood, there are grains of truth to all these theories. Yet one should be careful of placing too much emphasis on anyone of them singularly. Instead, I wish to focus on a forgotten answer to the age old question of what went wrong for the Union army and Joe Hooker in May of 1863. On the morning of May 3rd, General Hooker was wounded, probably suffering a severe concussion received from Confederate artillery fire. This event, minimized and overlooked in many accounts of the battle, perhaps played a far greater role at Chancellorsville than history has given credit for.Read More
In 1977, during the restoration of the Shy Mansion in Franklin, TN workers noticed a disturbance in the estate’s family cemetery. A grave had been opened, a hole cut in the cast iron case, and a body lay half out of the grave. When they called the authorities in, the sheriff determined it to be a recent homicide where the culprit had attempted to hide the body in the older grave. He sent the body to Nashville for examination by Dr. William Bass. Bass noticed that the clothing on the deceased was not made of any synthetic fibers and the coat was in an older style. When testing the tissues, he found that he was examining a body that had been embalmed with arsenic. The man who lay on the table before him was Colonel William Shy in a perfect state of preservation 113 years after his death at the Battle of Nashville.Read More